Imagine if – when suffering from the bloating, cramps and mood swings that hit when it’s that time of the month – you could phone your boss to say you’re taking a “period day” without being reprimanded or facing any repercussions?
Zambian women can. Discreetly referred to as Mother’s Day because of the taboo surrounding menstruation, it is one day each month that all women in that country can take off so that they may cope with menstrual bleeding, pain and cramps in the comfort of their own homes.
Employees do not need to make prior arrangements before taking the day nor do they need to produce a doctor’s note on their return. Despite being called Mother’s Day, the day is open to all female employees whether they are mothers or not.
The country’s labour law was amended two years ago to include this leave and though it was much debated, it is not a novelty.
According to media reports, six months ago the Chinese government passed a law allowing women employed in the northern province of Ningxia two days off a month to deal with period pain.
When that law was passed, women working in provinces Shanxi and Hubei had long since been enjoying the privilege.
Taiwan is said to offer women three days off a year to deal with period pain while Japan, South Korea and Indonesia all offer some form of period leave.
Further abroad, UK-based company Coexist, situated in Bristol, caused a stir when they introduced a period policy which allows women to synchronise their work schedule with their cycles.
This way, when that time of the month comes, they are able to take time off to recover from any possible pain without falling behind on their work.
The leave is not yet formally structured – meaning the policy is still in the planning phase and there are as yet no clear guidelines in place on the amount of leave days which can be taken – with the company director saying the leave had been introduced as there were too many women coming to work while doubled over in pain, often too ashamed to take time off.
“If someone is in pain – no matter what kind – they are encouraged to go home.
“But, for us, we wanted a policy in place which recognises and allows women to take time for their body’s natural cycle without putting this under the label of illness,” director Bex Baxter said in an interview which appeared in The Guardian.
The matter of period leave has been largely debated on various platforms, including news reports and social media.
Some critics have labelled women as weak for even considering the leave, and say menstruation is a natural process which could never disrupt a woman’s normal day-to-day activities.
East London-based gynaecologist Dr Robyn Spring disagrees.
According to Spring, some women experience severe cramping and flooding (when clothing is stained by an overflow of blood) during menstruating.
This could be caused by a condition known as menorrhagia, which she described as a loss of about 80 millilitres of blood per month, as compared to the normal 40 millilitres of lost blood.
“Menorrhagia is not necessarily easy to define, because ‘heavy periods’ to one person may be acceptable to another,” she said.
“About 50% of women presenting with heavy menstruation will have loss within normal limits.
“The causes vary significantly, from identifiable pathology such as fibroids, adenomyosis, foreign bodies (like the copper-containing IUCD), polyps, cancers and infections. Occasionally medical illnesses causing problems with blood clotting can also contribute.
“Flooding can be extremely embarrassing and debilitating.
“Also, for women whose access to sanitary wear is limited, even in the absence of menorrhagia it may be very difficult to attend work or school.”
What if period leave was introduced in South Africa?
Labour law expert Jonathan Goldberg said if period leave were to be introduced in the country, it could have a negative impact on the economy.
Goldberg said the South African market was battling to attract foreign currency, a situation that could worsen if women were allowed to take an extra 12 days of leave on top of their annual leave.
According to the Statistics South Africa Quarterly Labour Force Survey released in May last year, of the 36431 people currently employed in the country, 18456 of those are women.
Goldberg said: “We need to look at whether or not it will affect our productivity. We need to ask ourselves what the impact will be on our productivity as a country and whether or not this could contribute to unemployment in the long run.”
Goldberg said although the leave would be optional – with women having the option not to take it if there was no need – many could abuse it.
“Even if you don’t need the day for what it’s intended for, I can almost guarantee no one would pass up an extra day off per month.
“They would take it, especially if they don’t have to produce a doctor’s note for it or any other kind of proof of where they really were.”
In Zambia, women taking Mother’s Day are not allowed to be caught in a shopping mall, doing their hair or travelling.
Daily Dispatch readers shared their opinions on the matter on the Dispatch Facebook page.
Their reactions were:
lAmy Henning: “This would be amazing. I am lucky enough to suffer nothing more than moodiness. I know a woman who is another story. She doubles over with pain, experiences migraines, nausea, exhaustion and dizzy spells and has even fainted once or twice. This is a much-needed option for some girls and women.”
lSino Kekezwa: “I get the normal period pains, but on top of that I get a sharp pain. When it strikes, my whole body goes numb. It lasts for about eight seconds or so and it only strikes when I go to the loo. It gets worse every month.”
lHester Ferrezuelo: “Oh my word, can you imagine the abuse? Oh heavens people, it is a period! Not a car wreck! Have we become such pansies? Since when can two Gen Paynes not sort that out? What do you think women did before there was even pads available? It is ridiculous to say the least.”
lPauline Muzenda: “My daughter gets really sick for two days and no pain relief helps. When it starts, she vomits, turns grey and can’t eat or drink for the first 48 hours. It is a sickness for some.”
lCharlene Edwards: “The problem would be when a group of woman work together every ones’ monthly (cycle) would fall close to the one with the strongest personality. So you might sit with a situation where a few people will be off at the same time.”
lMadlalangendlovu Gwente: “No, no, no. When [will] man have [a] right in this democracy? That’s not fair at all. First there’s a law [that] says there should be more women hired in the workplace and now … [you are talking about] a day off in every month for [a] menstrual cycle. I disagree with that because it’s unfair.”
lKelly Bowman: “The amount of sick days I have used for period pain proves to me that women need more days than men. It’s not something we ask for or inflict on ourselves. And I don’t think it would be abused, just as normal sick days aren’t generally abused.” — email@example.com